July 2011– a month that promises to bring a sigh of relief to some, and a bout of anxiety to others. It is the month in which Obama claims he’ll have the last stragglers in America’s Army high-tailing it out of Iraq. This withdrawal was a campaign promise largely responsible for Obama’s win in 2008, and, in a speech on Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2010, Obama made good on his word, and officially initiated America’s withdrawal from Iraq.
In spite of being pushed to the back burner due to the worsening violence in Afghanistan and the 2009 collapse of the global economy, the war in Iraq remains a controversial issue for many Americans, and Obama’s Tuesday speech immediately sent sparks a-flare.
How does this bode for Iraq‘s future?
What will come of Iraq, the two-week operation that turned into a 10-year obligation? Regardless of which side of the political divide you fancy, just about everyone can agree that Iraq is nowhere near stable. And the solution is as precarious as it is complex.
Democracy in the Middle East is innately fragile: According to Freedom House, not a single Middle Eastern country, with the exception of Israel, has been able to maintain a stable democracy. But if democracy’s track record in the Middle East isn’t enough, introduce Iraq’s specific conundrum: Iraq has no “Iraqi” identity. The words “Sunni” and “Shiite” still rule the day, and sectarian conflict remains a looming threat for the nascent government. Which is why, according to Daniel Serwer of the United States Institute of Peace, “The heart of the matter is that neither [current prime minister Nuri] al-Maliki nor [former prime minister Ayad] Allawi nor anyone else in Iraq is really sure that this relatively democratic system is going to be around in four years, so they’re all afraid this is their last chance in power.”
Two options after the last troops leave
Given this precarious situation, America has two options:
A. We can remove our troops from bases within Iraqi territory but remain close by, willing to invest time, money and American lives if called upon for help by the Iraqi government.
B. We can recognize Iraq as the largest foreign policy failure since Vietnam, and cut our losses, staying out of the Iraqi quagmire and hoping for the best.
Both offers have their advantages and disadvantages, but, given the historical and political context of the Iraq war, it is more likely that Obama will side with option A.
This is because a bigger threat looms large in the Middle East — Iran, still governed by the anti-American Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has been ideologically supportive of creating a Pan-Islamic, anti-Western power axis since the Iranian revolution toppled the Shah in 1979. The collapse of the Iraqi government would be quickly filled by Iranian cash and weapons, and manned by anti-Western strong-men. It could easily become a base for terrorism.
Our commitment in Iraq isn’t over yet
The Iraq war has been damaging enough to America’s interests, and has already cost taxpayers $750 billion, according to the National Priorities Project. At this point, it’s highly likely that the President will support continued financial and military investment on a smaller scale, so as to avoid seeing everything we’ve poured into Iraq go to waste.
1. Scott Conroy, Obama’s Iraq Speech to Focus on Path Ahead, RealClearPolitics.com
2. Map of Freedom: Middle East and North Africa, FreedomHouse.org
3. Notes and Sources: Cost of War Counter, National Priorities Project